If Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch’s first offseason is any indication, the 49ers seem poised to address some of their most pressing needs in free agency before finding their long-term building blocks in the NFL draft.
They had needs last offseason at quarterback (filled with Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley), linebacker (Malcolm Smith), receiver (Pierre Garçon, Marquise Goodwin, Aldrick Robinson) and pass rusher (Elvis Dumervil).
San Francisco this spring is going to have upwards of $100 million in cap space, even after signing Jimmy Garoppolo, meaning they should be players in free agency.
And one name that’s been linked to the 49ers is Lions free agent pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah, who turns 29 in May, makes sense on a few different levels.
First: production. Ansah had 12 sacks last season, nearly doubling up Dumervil, who led the 49ers with 6.5. Ansah would presumably be a three-down player at the LEO defensive end spot, where coordinator Robert Saleh struggled to find consistent production in 2017.
Saleh’s defense was middle of the road in terms of pressuring the quarterback and ranked 26th with just 30 sacks. The 49ers finished ranked 24th in net yards per passing attempt (6.6), which factors in sacks.
The 49ers at LEO were forced to shuffle through Arik Armstead, Solomon Thomas, Aaron Lynch, Dumervil and Cassius Marsh. Yet only Dumervil offered consistency off the edge, and he played just 30 percent of the defensive snaps all season. Armstead’s season ended after Week 6 when he suffered a fractured hand that required surgery.
Adding Ansah would give the 49ers a new top option at the position, allowing Armstead to play more along the interior where he’s more naturally suited. Having depth along the defensive line can be a huge asset as the Eagles have proven throughout the season and their Super Bowl run. And an edge threat could benefit players like DeForest Buckner and Thomas in the middle immensely.
(John Grieshop/Getty Images)
Second: the executive that drafted Ansah now works for the 49ers. Senior executive Martin Mayhew took Ansah fifth overall in 2013 when he was the general manager of the Lions. NFL people love familiarity, and Mayhew is certainly familiar with the BYU alum.
But Ansah would come with risk, particularly if he’s made one of the defense’s highest-paid players.
Six of his 12 sacks last season came in the final two games – and three more came against the lowly Giants in Week 2. He had just two the season prior when the Lions went to the playoffs. Which is to say, it’s uncertain he would give the 49ers a double-digit sack season – or the weekly production they would need to solidify the pass rush.
Which shifts the discussion to price. Ansah figures to be one of the highest paid pass rushers on the market this offseason. It seems likely he gets $9 to $11 million annually, which would make him one of the team’s most expensive non-quarterbacks. That’s a lofty price for a player who admitted to playing through a number of injuries last year, including ankle, back and shoulder injuries. It’s unclear if any required surgery.
When Ansah’s healthy, he could be one of the league’s better pass rushers. In 2015, when he was a second-team All-Pro and Pro-Bowler, he logged 14.5 sacks (third in the NFL) and four forced fumbles (second).
Could the 49ers use that production? Absolutely. But the decision won’t be as simple as signing the best pass rusher on the market.